The past few years have been good to Christian rock group Third Day. Last summer they played for a national audience at the Republican National Convention and were the subject of a special on 60 Minutes. In February, they took home a "Best Rock Gospel" Grammy Award for the band's seventh studio album, "Wire." And, in April, they won two Dove awards from the Gospel Music Association, for "Best Rock/Contemporary" album and their contribution to "The Passion of the Christ: Songs"-bringing their total number of Dove awards to 23. Currently on tour, bass player Tai Anderson spoke with Beliefnet about the "country club" insularity of the Christian music industry, how music is like politics, and how he becomes a Christian every day.
You've been the Christian music industry for a while. How is it different now than it was ten years ago?
I feel like when we started-as we were on the outside looking in-we kind of thought, "Christian music really isn't very good. Hopefully we can help to make it better." Now that we've been in it for ten years, that's not something we have to worry about as much because everyone is making great music.
It's a little less cheesy?
Yeah. I really think it is.
Ten years ago it felt like there was a gap-that Christian music was always ten years behind in the trends. And now, maybe that gap has closed a little bit. Maybe we're just a couple years behind [laughs].
I think with Third Day's kind of music, we'll never be the hottest, trendy thing because we're more just rock 'n' roll. There's different [genres.] "Oh it's punk rock this year or ska this year or whatever." But I think when you just [play] rock you might never be the biggest thing, but it's pretty solid.
A lot of Christian bands, like Switchfoot, for example, have managed to cross over into the mainstream. People like them now and don't even realize they're considered a Christian band.
That's the cool thing. Now mainstream music is looking to Christian music for the hits.
We took [Switchfoot] on tour in 1997--their very first tour. We had heard their first album, before it came out, and we were like, "This is a great band--as good as anything else out there."
When I was listening to the latest album I was surprised to how diverse you are musically. On one level, you're this hard-rocking band and then you go into a worship song that still has a rock background. But it seems like both Christians and the spiritual-but-not-religious-crowd can relate to it.
Yeah. That's the challenge that comes with being in a Christian band after a while. You want to talk about spiritual things, but not in a religious, confusing way.
I think [the Christian music industry] can start to feel kind of country-clubish. Especially for [lead singer] Mac [Powell], writing songs where he knows there's certain vocabulary that Christians understand and are going to respond to. But at the same time, it doesn't make any sense to someone isn't already part of the club. So that was our challenge: How can we talk about this spiritual reality in our lives without using religious jargon that's immediately alienating to people?
There are some songs on the album, like Rock Star, that seem like good old-fashioned pop-rock songs that don't have any religious undertones. That song is just about getting caught up in the glamour of your celebrity, right?
One little spiritual thing [about the song] is certainly not religious, but it comes in that bridge where we're saying: "To you I'm nothing, but to you I'm something, something so much more." That's saying, when you're trying to please people it never works but no matter what you are, to God you matter.
That song sounds very pretentious, but actually it's not so much about us. It's more the people that want to be us. Everyone wants to be a rock star. [But] as you're striving to impress people [you may] realize that's not where your identity is.
How do you stay grounded?
For me, it's something simple-when I go on stage I always wear a cowboy hat. And so when I put on the cowboy hat I'm like, "OK, I'm going into rock star mode." And then when I get off the stage, I take it off.
As a band, if anyone does anything sort of haughty we're all there to let each other know about it.
Certainly having kids and being married keeps you humble. And also, when you don't meet every one of your expectations, it's humbling. When we started "Wire," we were thinking, what's happening to Switchfoot was going to happen to us. And it doesn't always happen. You [can] go, "Were we dreaming too big? Did we think too much of the music we were making?" Or you just go, "We still get to make music for a living."
On your single "Wire" you talk about being in the limelight and the pressure of not falling off of your tightrope. What kinds of pressures are you talking about here? About being good role models, or good Christians, or something else?
Part of Christian culture is really good at standing on the sidelines and criticizing what's happening in the culture at large. We came to believe that we need to be the ones shaping the culture instead of sitting on the sidelines complaining about it. We don't need to be going, "Hollywood is so horrible. Look at the horrible movies that come out." Why aren't we making movies? And that's kind of what we try to do with music.
Christians love to go, "Oh, the media is so liberal and doesn't represent [us]." Well, why don't we send our kids to journalism school? Instead of sitting on the sidelines or the safety net-it's kind of walking out on that wire.
It felt like as we were stepping out, trying to take our music beyond Christian music, and that half the people were going, "go for it" and the other half were going, "we want to keep you to ourselves." They're almost excited that we're going to fall or fail.
You played at the Republican National Convention last year. What was that like?
It was an interesting gig. A little older demographic then our normal fan base. I guess it felt like the spin was more of a political statement than we wanted it to be. With this album, we want to take our music to anyone that we can. If we had been asked to play at the DNC, we would have played at the DNC. But we weren't asked, because they didn't want to associate themselves with Christians or Christian music.
If you weren't the bass player for a popular band, what would you be doing?
Everyone says I'd be a politician.
Would you be a Republican or Democrat?
I have always thought I'd start my own party, sort of the Common Sense party, but they never seem to take off the ground. I actually got excited about the "compassionate conservatism" idea. Because I guess I'm more left-leaning socially and as relates to poverty and things like that. But probably more conservative in values.
Politics are like music. Everyone hates the labels.
It seems that talking about faith has become really popular lately. Why do you think that is?
I don't know. That's what we noticed. When we watched the Grammys and the Oscars, everyone's religious when they win their Grammy! We just try to live it out the other 364 days of the year.
I think that's just who America is. Our faith is a large part of who we are. For a long time, the media ignored that. Most people get up and go to church on Sunday morning. But how often do you see that on a TV show? I think for a while, it was almost like the elephant in the room as it relates to media-no one wants to talk about it and it's not politically correct, but everyone's doing it. I think after this last election, everyone's going, "this is a big part of who we are." Even after "The Passion of the Christ" and everything that stirred up, it was like, this is who we are, so let's all at least talk about it. Let's not pretend that we're all sterile [and] politically correct.
Do you have a favorite prayer?
That's my favorite too.
I don't have a sort of go-to mantra or anything. Especially in Christian music, [people] ask, "So when were you born again?" or "When did you become a Christian?" And people will point out, "Oh, twelve years ago, I said this prayer."
[When] people ask me, "When did you become a Christian?" I'll say, "this morning." Because for me, it's more of just trying to start each day--a lot of times when I'm on that jog--and go, "God, I invite you to be part of my life today. I want to get to know you better and I recognize that I blow it and I need forgiveness and I give you my life."
By - Dena Ross